From British journalist Jeffreys (Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug, 2004), a walloping exposé of the chemical industry that funded the Nazi machine.
The creation of synthetic dyes, the development of aspirin and other great advances in chemistry and medicine from the mid-19th to 20th century were effected by the Germans, thanks to their technical training and abundance of coal for production, notes the author. Chemist Carl Bosch engineered the “fixing” of nitrogen, which led to the manufacture of synthetic fertilizer and the making of high explosives and mustard gas during World War I. In 1916, a cluster of German chemical firms including Bayer, BASF, Agfa and Hoechst united to form the cartel IG Farben, which grew into a colossus during the 1920s. Headed by Bosch, it pioneered the extraction of synthetic oil from coal along with a synthetic rubber (buna) that would pave the way for German self-sufficiency. Hitler commended the industry’s efforts, and IG Farben made huge donations to the newly powerful Nazi party, complying meekly with the purge of valuable Jewish scientists from its industries. Jeffreys doggedly pursues this dense and frequently bewildering story of tight-knit collaboration, which extended to such American companies as Standard Oil. IG Farben’s complicity fed the aggressive megalomania of Hitler, from the Four-Year Plan that directed all industry to serve the needs of the Reich, through the “wolverine speed” with which IG took over chemical plants in Poland and France once the Nazis rolled in, to the erection of a new buna factory manned by available slave labor at Auschwitz. Did IG’s managers know what was happening to the Jews in these factories of death? “The short, simple, and unequivocal answer is…yes,” writes Jeffreys, whose detailed examination of the facts decisively refutes “the blanket protestations of ignorance” made by IG’s chiefs after the war. Nonetheless, 24 IG executives evaded justice at Nuremberg, thanks to insufficient evidence.
A thoroughgoing, sobering look at a horrific Faustian bargain.